10 Steps to Overcome Social Anxiety
Social anxiety prevents people from expressing their ideas and personality for fear of being judged or rejected. As a result, socially anxious and shy people often feel misunderstood.
To overcome social anxiety and develop confidence, try the following 10 steps:
1. Maintain Confident Body Language
Body language signals to people around you exactly what you are feeling. Usually, people unconsciously move in ways that reflect their mental state. However, you can also intentionally use confident body language to feel more confident.
Normally, your body produces neurotransmitters and hormones that make you feel exactly the way you think you should feel. For example, if you live in a stressful environment and are constantly worried people will physically attack you, then your body produces high amounts of cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones that prepare your fight or flight response. In small doses, this is very healthy. However, if you are constantly stressed, it’s very unhealthy.
Even when socially anxious people aren’t living in an objectively stressful environment, they still experience that same overactive stress response because they perceive that they need it. Their body language will reflect this interpretation and their inner feelings. They will try to take up less space to become invisible, avoid eye contact, and speak quickly for fear of being interrupted.
However, socially confident people don’t feel they are in any danger. They feel safe. Their body reflects this in the chemicals it produces and in the postures that a confident person feels comfortable taking.
Certain body language is more likely to be associated with confidence. By assuming these postures and ways of moving, you trigger responses in the body that can only be triggered when you perceive your environment as safe.
Standing and sitting with good posture, slow movements, raising your hands above your head, and other confident poses lower cortisol, the stress hormone. The movements also increase production of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which are usually associated with feeling good.
By practicing confident body language, you are opening your mind to the possibility that you can actually overcome social anxiety and develop confidence. Of course, fixing your body language is only the first step. You should also consider some introspection to resolve psychological issues that may be triggering socially anxious responses.
For more see our pages on Non-Verbal Communication and Body Language.
2. Socialize More
If you want to develop any skill you must practice it.
Try to find some social events in your area and, if you can, go by yourself. It’s common for shy people to stick to a friend every time they go out, but this is only hindering your progress and reinforcing your fear of socializing by yourself.
During your efforts to accumulate social experience, you can also practice your confident body language. Maintain good eye contact, stand up straight, don’t speak too fast, speak at an audible volume, and remember to take a few slow, deep breathes if you ever feel a bit stressed out.
When you socialize, try not to have a goal in mind, such as making a new friend, getting a date, or finding people who will give you friendly reactions. Don’t depend on external results to feel good about yourself.
Instead, be happy that you are improving your social skills and confidence. This is because when you focus on getting a certain outcome, such as finding people who smile when you start a conversation, then it can make you really nervous when people don’t smile immediately. Focus on enjoying the experience.
When you go home, then you can take a moment to reflect on your experiences.
3.Keep A Record of Your Interactions
You don’t need to write down every interaction of course. But keep a record of the times you had the opportunity to avoid an interaction, but instead faced your fear and took action anyway.
This will be a helpful reminder of the progress you are making to overcome social anxiety and build confidence. You don’t even need to invest a lot of time to do this.
Every day, after coming home from your social event, take 10 minutes to write down your thoughts about one or two interactions.
You may find our page, Keeping a Diary or Journal helpful here.
4. Take Big Leaps Out of Your Comfort Zone
Write down a list of all the people and social situations that intimidate you.
Some of these could include asking friends or strangers for favors, or talking to people you think are higher status than you.
Rank these fears in order of least to most anxiety inducing. Now, start facing these fears.
Start with the easiest to face and work your way up. In the beginning, you may not believe you will ever have the courage to face the scariest situations on your list. However, belief can easily change with experience.
5. Reframe Mistakes as Positive Learning Opportunities
Some people are afraid to take the smallest step out of their comfort zone because they are afraid of making mistakes or embarrassing themselves. They want to stay in their safe zone, no matter how much it limits their opportunities in life.
If any of your interactions are awkward, don’t view them as failures. Instead see mistakes as learning opportunities. Be proud of them as they show you how you can improve next time.
Your self-esteem and confidence will gradually develop with more social experience.
Don’t pressure yourself to impress everyone you meet. Accept the fact that not every interaction will result in meeting new friends or even an enjoyable conversation.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life
Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.
6. Spend Time With Confident Friends
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is well known for saying, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
In general, this is often true. If you spend time with confident people, or at least people working on improving their confidence, then they will influence and encourage you to develop your social skills. Spend time with people who possess traits you admire.
Meditation is a commonly used method for treating anxiety related conditions. It helps in training yourself to practice relaxing in anxiety inducing situations.
To begin, find a comfortable, quiet location. Sit down and close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing without trying to control it.
It’s usual for the mind to wander during meditation. Don’t try to control your thoughts and don’t feel bad about getting distracted. Just allow the thoughts to come and go and then return your focus to your breathing.
After a few minutes of this, imagine one of the scenarios that trigger your social anxiety. Imagine how you will feel in this situation. Don’t fight these feelings. Remind yourself to accept them and confront your fear instead of running away.
Our page on Mindfulness has more information.
8. Socialize With Everyone
By socializing with everyone you open yourself up to many more opportunities for overcoming your social anxiety and developing confidence.
Instead of only talking to people you feel can offer you value, talk to anyone: the elderly, employees at the grocery store, or anyone you feel is outside your sphere of social interest.
When talking with these people you are less likely to have some sort of ideal outcome or ulterior motive. When you interact with people with some sort of goal in mind it can put pressure on you to succeed. But when you are less concerned with the outcome of the interaction and just enjoying the moment, it is much more fun for everyone involved.
9. Make Plans and Invite People
Once you start facing your fears, talking to everyone, and spending time with confident new friends, you are ready to plan some events. Socially confident people don’t just sit around waiting for invitations, they actively invite people out.
Think of some activities you would enjoy with a group of friends. It could be playing a sport together or having a meal together, for example. This will help you start taking a leadership role in social situations and people will start to look forward to the events you plan.
10. Practice Self-Amusement
When you are constantly worried about rejection it can prevent self-expression. Instead of sharing your real opinions or sense of humor, you may only be comfortable sharing statements you think most people can accept.
You may notice that humorous people are often quite confident. They aren’t constantly filtering everything they say. Instead, they think of something funny and it immediately comes out of their mouth.
The truth is everyone has this filter. Even the most confident people know some things are best left unsaid. This is just politeness. But socially anxious people have an overly sensitive filter. They hold back way too much out of fear of rejection.
Now that you are overcoming social anxiety, and spending time with more confident friends, you can readjust the sensitivity level of that filter. It’s time to finally start amusing yourself and saying exactly what you want to say without too much concern about what other people will think.
With practice, you will more confidently express yourself in any situation. By combining social experience, meditation, and self-amusement you can dramatically improve your self-confidence.
About the Author
Adam Rockman is a confidence coach and author of the best-selling book Social Confidence Mastery: How to Eliminate Social Anxiety, and the Fear of Rejection.